What to Wear Under Waders for Winter Warmth

What to Wear Under Waders for Winter Warmth

The turn of September is upon us here in Calgary, bringing cooler nights, the crunch of colored leaves, and hints of pumpkin spice in the air. Lattes and leaf piles aside, for Alberta anglers autumn means backswimmers on the Bow River, coastal steelhead trips, and prepping for wintertime tailwater trout spey. To go hard fly fishing into the fall and winter in Canada, you need the right gear, and that includes proper under wader layering. Your enjoyment of your days on the water hinges on your warmth and comfort, so don't skip this crucial component. 

It's simplest to think of waders and layers as a system with parts that work together to keep you warm and dry. A cold weather wading layering system has three parts:

  • A close fitting, moisture wicking base layer
  • A stretchy, insulating mid layer
  • A breathable, waterproof exterior (ie: waders)

Modern breathable waders have one-way technology that allows water vapor to move through the fabric while keeping liquid water out. Unfortunately, this also means that liquid water inside your waders (ie: perspiration) remains trapped and unable to move through the one-way barrier. This is where the proper under layers make the difference between a damp, chilly day and a warm, comfortable one. A base layer made of a moisture-wicking material like merino wool, Patagonia's Capilene, or Simms' HeiQ treated poly/spandex blend moves liquid moisture off your skin and through to the exterior of the garment as water vapor.

Base layers that are designed for wearing under waders are best as they are designed for long-wearing odor control. Choose a base layer that is stretchy and fits close to the skin for best results. Because you should always have a layer between your skin and your breathable waders in order for them to function properly, these are garments that you can use year-round under your waders, wearing them by themselves in summer and then adding an insulating layer for colder months.


Simms' Lightweight Baselayer Bottom is the essential next-to-skin layer for building a rock-solid foundation that prioritizes all-day mobility, warmth and wicking.

  • Quick-dry, jersey knit polyester combined with sustainable odor control for maximum next-to-skin comfort
  • Flat elastic waistband and fly pouch designed with minimal seams for a chafe-free, next to skin comfort
  • Flatlock seam construction for next to skin comfort
Next, insulating layers should be stretchy and cut to accommodate movement and wader design. A pair of Fruit of the Loom sweats and a hoody just isn't going to cut it. Not only should you never wear cotton under waders (because cotton absorbs moisture rather than dissipates it), a well designed insulating layer will provide you the lightweight warmth and movement required for a long day on the water with out bulk and chafing. A Fish Tales staff favorite is the Patagonia Tough Puff Pant for both men and women. Always wear your moisture wicking layer under your insulating layer to move moisture away from the skin.

Patagonia Tough Puff Pants have a stretchy, durable face fabric combined with breathable FullRange® stretch insulation for performance, warmth and motion. 

  • Gusset crotch and articulated knees for freedom of movement
  • Adjustable waist strap
  • Zip fly and button closure
  • Tapered ankles
  • Two front pockets, one zippered back pocket
  • 60-g FullRange® 100% polyester (40% recycled) stretch insulation
  • Durable 100% polyester (46% recycled) shell with two-way stretch that resists pilling

For those that want a slimmer fitting option, Patagonia's R2 TechFace Pant is a great crosslayer option designed for fishing with or without waders. Brand new from Patagonia this season, these pants look to be a well designed upgrade from the R1 fleece pant as an under wader option. Featuring tapered cuffs and a durable, water repellant finish on the face, these breathable pants are available in men's and women's sizing. Dress-code approved for the après-fish dive bar.

Before, during or after a day on the water, the Patagonia R2® TechFace Pants deliver breathable, water-shedding warmth and angler-focused details.  These tough, versatile pants excel at underwater insulation or on their own for durable, comfortable warmth.

  • Exceptionally warm, high-loft double-weave fabric is soft next to skin but doesn’t trap moisture
  • Nonbulky cuffs fit easily over or under socks for snug fit under waders
  • Accessory loop on right waistband holds hemos/nippers
  • Overlays on thighs and seat increase durability and resist pilling where waders abrade pants
  • Treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish to shed moisture

Finally, a good, breathable wader is a must have for winter wading. Investing in waders made from materials like Gore-tex or Toray does make a difference in the breathability and durability of your exterior layer.

Be sure to choose breathable layers for your upper body as well. Your upper body is also enclosed in the breathable fabric of your waders and potentially a waterproof breathable shell so the same mechanics apply to keep your core dry and warm. Not all insulated jackets are breathable, so be sure to choose an option like the Patagonia Tough Puff Jackets or R2 tops. The Simms ExStream Bicomp hoody is another great option that removes the bulk around the midsection where you don't need it under your waders, while still keeping you warm up top.

In summary:

  • Cold weather layering is a three part system including a moisture wicking base layer, stretch insulation, and breathable waders.
  • Don't wear cotton under your waders (Jeans included).
  • Choose technical fabrics with odor control or merino wool.
  • Garments that stretch support mobility. 
  • Use the same principles in layering all parts of your body, including your feet and upper body.
  • Stay warm and keep fishing!


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